Excerpts from newspapers and other
From the files of the
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection
EDITORIALS BY THE PEOPLE
THE SO-CAULED "FAILURES" OF
By Clarence O. Kimball.
In this morning's Messenger
(April 12, 192/!) appears a aer-
nionette in the editorial col-
umns, "reprinted from Dor-
ways'," under the title of "Vic-
tory Through Defeats," in which
the most .commendable conclu-
sion is drawn from the most
false of premises. A greater
number of errors regarding the
life of Abraham Lincoln could
scalcely be crowded into the
same small ploce. Briefly they
1. Abraham Lincoln .did run
for the legislature when he was
a young man, very young, but
he was not "badly swamped."
He had barely turned twenty-
three, was a comparatively
ignorant frontier youth, and yet
in his own precinct, pronounc-
edly democratic in its senti-
ments, he, a whig, received 227
out of the 300 votes cast. In his
own handwriting he stated that
"this was the only time that
Abraham was ever defeated on
a direct vote of the people. Two
years later he was elected and
served in the legislature eight
years, became speaker, and re-
tired of his own choice. In 1841
when he was only thirty-two, his
friends proffered him their sup-
port for the governorship of Illi
nois, but he preferred to go to
Washington and declined to run
2. He "failed" in a country
store — a store that he and two
partners bought without a cent
of money. One of the partners
wrecked the business, and Lin-
coln's high sense of honor
caused him to assume debts
which he was under no legal
obligation to pay ($1100). The
custom of that rude frontier
was to pay debts by running
away. Lincoln's conduct in this
matter was a great element in
his making, and cannot be too
highly praised, even if the arena
was small. There is no moral
stain on "Honest Abe." This is
anythipg but failure.
3. Ann. Rutledge died and Lin-
coln mourned. But this is not
failure. The Ladles' Home Jour-
nal wove a wonderful romance
out of this, from which the pub-
lic will never recover, but Lin-
4. He ran for Congress, but
was not "badly" defeated, in
fact, he was not defeated at all.
In his first race in 1812 San-
gamon county instructed for Ed-
ward D. Baker, good friend of
Lincolni who waa defeated in tna
convention by Hardin. Two
years later Baker was nomi-
nated and elected, and two years
after that Lincoln was nomi-
nated and tdected by the largest
est majority ever given in the
district up to that time, not-
withstanding his democratic op-
ponent was the popular Metho-
dist itinerant, Peter Cartwright.
5. Lincoln declined to make
any effort for the U. S. Land
Office because of his support of
a friend for the position. When
the appointment of the latter
became an impossibility, he ap-
plied for the place himself only
to defeat an unacceptable can-
didate. It was then too late, but
instead he was offered the gov-
ernorship of the territory of
Oregon, which would soon be-
come a state and would unques-
tionably return him as its first
U. S. Senator, as it did his friend
Baker. He declined.
6. It is not true that Lincoln
"became a candidate for the U.
S. Senate and was badly de-
7. He was not a candidate for
vice-president in 1856. His fa-
mous speech at the Bloomington
convention had made him the
real leader of the new Repub-
lican party in Illinois, and with-
out his knowledge delegates to
the national convention in the
east voted for him for the vtee-
presidential nomination to the
surprising number of 110, but
when he heard of it back in
Illinois he remarked that it must
have been "that other distin-
guished Lincoln in Massachu-
setts" who got the votes.
8. In 1858 he was defeated by
Douglas in the famous fight for
the senatorship because of a
gerrymandering legislature. With
the political complexion of the
state adverse to Mm, and de-
spite the overwhelming personal
nopularity of the "Little Giant,"
he received a majority of the
popular vote. All the moral ef-
fects of victory besides were his,
and he himself regarded this
battle as but a skirmish preced-
ing the decisive conflict of 1860.
At twenty-three Lincoln was a
captain in the Black Hawk war.
One biographer says: "Master of
a profession (surveying) in which
he had an abundance of work
and earned fair fees, hopeful of
being admitted in a few months
to the bar, a member of the
state assembly with every rea-
son to believe that, if he de-
sired it, his constituency would
return him — few men are as far
advanced at twenty-six as was
PORTERVILLE^ TULARE COUNTY. CALIFORxMA, THURSDAY MORNING, APRIL 13, 1922
Bulletin of the Lincoln National Life Foundation ------- Dr. Louis A. Warren, Editor.
Published each week by The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA
April 30, 1934
THE TRIUMPHS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Much has been written about the failures of Abraham
Lincoln, and many incidents which must have given him
considerable personal satisfaction have been interpreted
so as to present him in a mood of humiliation. It will be
admitted that he often suffered disappointment, but this
is not an uncommon experience for those who are ambi-
tious and aim high.
There is a note of despondency in Lincoln's first public
speech which biographers have carried down through
the years as evidence that he was continually disheart-
ened by humiliating defeats. On March 9, 1832, when he
was but twenty-three years of age, he concluded a polit-
ical address with these words, "If the good people in
their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background,
I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very
Within six weeks after Lincoln drew this rather
gloomy picture of his early life, an event occurred which
he claimed gave him more pleasure than any other ex-
perience up to the time of his election to the presidency.
He was elected a captain by a volunteer company in the
Black Hawk War. It was this military service which
more than any other factor prevented him from making
the political canvass in 1832 and resulted in what some
may consider a political failure, but which in reality was
his first great triumph at the polls.
The fact is that Lincoln succeeded in nearly every ac-
tivity to which he gave his attention for any period of
time. In his primitive occupation as a woodsman none
excelled him. As a riverman he became an expert author-
ity on waterways. The accuracy of his work as deputy
surveyor has been demonstrated over and over again. In
athletic achievements he had few superiors. He became
the recognized head of the Illinois bar. His political am-
bitions were only satisfied when he became President of
the United States.
Space will not permit a review of his successes in these
various enterprises, but the triumphs which he achieved
in the last mentioned effort will illustrate how he moved
on from one elevation to another with steady and sure
progress, until he was given the highest honor which
America has to offer.
1832— A NOVICE SURPRISES THE VETERANS
A resident of Illinois but two years and of Sangamon
County but eight months, with but five days to campaign
he ran seventh among thirteen candidates for the legis-
lature. He polled all but three of the 281 votes in his own
precinct and ran but 159 votes behind Peter Cartwright
one of the successful candidates.
1834— HIS FIRST VICTORY A DECISIVE ONE
Lincoln's showing in 1832 encouraged him to announce
for the legislature again in 1834. Of the four successful
candidates he polled within fourteen votes as many as
the largest number cast for any single candidate. ' His
total vote in 1834 jumped to 1,376. This was a notable
achievement for so young a politician.
1836— WHIG FLOOR LEADER OF ILLINOIS
Sangamon County elected seven representatives to the
legislature in 1836, and Lincoln led the ticket with 1 716
votes. He was made the Whig floor leader, although but
twenty-eight years of age.
1838— MINORITY CHOICE FOR SPEAKER
Step by step Lincoln gained preeminence among the
Whigs of Illinois and was given the complimentary vote
as Speaker of the House by the minority party in 1838.
1840— A HARRISON AND TYLER ELECTOR
Supplementing his being elected to the legislature,
making four conclusive terms in which he was successful,
he was chosen one of the Harrison and Tyler electors.
He went back to Kentucky, his native state, for an ad-
dress, which was possibly his first public address outside
1844— PRESIDENTIAL ELECTOR FOR
His political leadership was further recognized by his
being made presidential elector for Henry Clay. During
this campaign he addressed groups near his old home in
1846— THE LONE WHIG CONGRESSMAN FROM
Elected as a representative from Illinois to the Con-
gress of the United States, he was the only one from the
state to represent the Whig party. He made important
political speeches in New England at this time.
1854— HIS CONGRESSIONAL TERM VINDICATED
He was again elected to the General Assembly of Illi-
nois which appears to vindicate, as far as his own party
is concerned., his term in Congress. He resigned, however,
to become the party's candidate for the United States
1856— RECEIVED LARGE UNSOLICITED VOTE
AS VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE
At the .first National Republican Convention in Phila-
delphia, Lincoln received 110 votes as a candidate for the
Vice Presidency of the United States without any effort
put forth on his part.
1858— THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE FOR SENATOR
Pitted against the strongest man in the United States
Senate, Stephen A. Douglas, he received a larger popular
vote than his famous rival, which would indicate he was
the people s choice for senator.
I860— THE SIXTEENTH PRESIDENT OF THE
The popular vote for Lincoln in 1860 was 1,866,452.
This total was the largest ever cast for a president up
to that time and 511,295 more than was cast for Douglas
the runner-up. The fact that he received a majority of
the popular votes in his home precinct at Springfield
seemed to give him the most satisfaction of anv of the
election returns. The elective votes were as follows- Lin-
coln, 180; Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 37; and Douglas, 'l2.
1864— HIS ADMINISTRATION CONFIRMED
The election of 1864 was a real test of the popular re-
action to his administrative policies, and the overwhelm-
ing victory must have been a fitting climax to his political
Bulletin of the Lincoln National Life Foundation ------ Dr. Louis A. Warren, Editor
Published each week by The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne, Indiana
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA
August 8, 1938
Appearing under either the caption "Lincoln's Failures"
or the title "Discouraged?", there has been widely distrib-
uted a series of statements which imply that Lincoln was
continually suffering defeat until at last he finally
achieved the presidency. This was good psychology to
emphasize during the depression, when so many people
were suffering reverses, and now that another season of
unfavorable business conditions is upon us the story of
Lincoln's failures again find their way into the hands of
After the caption "Discouraged" on this interesting
broadside, there is a question mark — sort of a self -analysis
reminder. For the purpose of this discussion it might
better be placed after the title "Lincoln Failures" with
the implication that possibly the experiences of Lincoln
were not so humiliating as indicated.
One questions whether or not so much emphasis should
be placed on the element of failure which is featured by
the compilation of experiences in Lincoln's struggle for
advancement. It is very evident that Lincoln himself, did
not become depressed by occasional reverses and most cer-
tainly his friends and political associates who finally se-
cured his nomination to the presidency did not consider
him a good example of a citizen whose life was a long
series of failures.
The eight statements quoted in this issue of Lincoln
Lore are those most usually found on the circulated broad-
sides, although various versions differ both in the number
of failures tabulated and in the emphasis placed on the
magnitude of the failure.
1. "When Abraham Lincoln was a young man he ran
for the legislature in Illinois and was badly swamped."
Lincoln was but twenty-three years old when he an-
nounced himself as a candidate for the Illinois Legisla-
ture. He had been in the state but two years and in his
home precinct but six months. He was absent from the
county in the Black Hawk War during the entire campaign
with the exception of a week. Yet, with no opportunities
. to campaign, he polled 277 votes, or all but three in his
own precinct, and with thirteen candidates in the county,
four to be elected, he ran in eighth position, just 159 votes
behind Peter Cartright, one of the successful candidates.
It does not appear that Lincoln was "badly swamped" as
his total vote, even in defeat, was greater than the average
vote of the entire group of candidates. Two years later he
was elected to the legislature and served eight consecu-
tive years. Certainly a summary of his early political ex-
periences does not leave the impression that Lincoln was
a failure but a tremendous success.
2. "He next entered business, failed, and spent seven-
teen years of his life paying up the debts of a worthless
It is true that Lincoln did not succeed as a storekeeper
but he sold his interest in the business before it failed.
Giving security for friends, buying surveying equipment,
and the death of his partner brought on bankruptcy. Ob-
ligations which otherwise would not have been his, put
him in debt to the extent of about $500. The statement
that he spent "seventeen years of his life" paying this
debt is certainly misleading as in the meantime, he mar-
ried, raised a family, bought a home, and took his place
in economic life of Springfield.
3. "He fell in love with a beautiful young woman to
whom he became engaged — then she died."
Probably Lincoln was "in love" with Ann Rutledge, she
may have been "a beautiful young woman", but there is
no dependable evidence that Lincoln ever "became en-
gaged" to her, as it has been generally accepted that she
still considered her engagement to the absent suitor, John
McNamar, as binding. About a year after Ann's death,
Lincoln proposed marriage to another young lady at New
Salem and later on married a brilliant young woman who
was often called the belle of Springfield. The story that
Lincoln's heart was buried with Ann Rutledge is but an-
other bit of the Herndon legend.
4. "Entering politics he ran for Congress and was badly
This notation is an interesting reference to a prelimi-
nary local rivalry in which three men including Lincoln
were hoping to be nominated at a local convention. Lin-
coln had "entered politics" ten years before and he never
"ran for Congress" in 1843 because he was not the party
candidate. He was sent from the local convention to the
district convention instructed to vote for one of the three
men seeking the nomination. This is a typical citation
which shows to what effort some one has gone to build
up Lincoln's failures.
5. "He then tried to get an appointment to the United
States Land Office, but failed."
Upon reviewing the whole story of Lincoln's land office
experience, it is evident that in attempting to first secure
the position for some one else, he sacrificed an appoint-
ment that could easily have been his own if he had gone
after it at the beginning. He only failed after he had ex-
hausted his efforts on behalf of another and then tried to
rescue the appointment by becoming a candidate himself.
6. "He became a candidate for the United States Senate
and was badly defeated."
One conversant with Lincoln's senatorial aspirations in
1854 scarcely could call him a "badly defeated" man. Pos-
sibly he was a badly treated man and most certainly sacri-
ficed his personal chances for the sake of the party.
Here is Lincoln's own reaction to the balloting: "I began
with 44 votes, Shields 41, and Trumbull 5, — yet Trumbull
was elected. In fact, 47 different members voted for me, —
getting three new ones on the second ballot, and losing
four old ones. How came my 47 to yield to Trumbull's 5 ?"
7. "In 1856, he became a candidate for the vice presi-
dency and was again defeated."
It is inferred from the statement about the use of his
name for the vice presidency in 1856 that Lincoln sought
the office. The fact is that he had no knowledge that his
name would be used and was surprised it had been placed
before the convention. He was not even in attendance and
there was no opportunity for much organized effort on his
behalf, yet with his name merely put in nomination, on
the first ballot he received 110 votes over against the 259
cast for Dayton whose campaign for the vice presidency
was well executed.
8. "In 1858, he was defeated by Douglas."
This is the one statement in the entire list of eight that
would seem to need no comment as it is widely known that
the senatorial contest between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858
was won by Douglas. It is not known, generally, however,
that Lincoln received a larger popular vote than Douglas
and it was only by the voting of the electoral college that
Lincoln was defeated. To poll more votes than the out-
standing statesman of America of that day should not be
counted an ignominious defeat.
STAR, FEBRUARY 11, 1940.
, • / < • . ,
Research Regarding Lincoln's Life
Gives Honorable Record of Career
u a nlan had purchased a home
No Excuse for Misleading Statements
-Except Ignorance, Says Writer of
"When God wauls a man fur a supreme task He
usually picks him from the quid places.
By PERCY E. GOODRICH.
T T IS indeed difficult to say anything new - unusual about our
1 greatest American. There has m the a St few >ear y
falfe or misleading statements m ade per ^Z^J^g eSiVly H fe
C °Just y iast year an article ap- a ~ n ^elo71ul lather ana motner
peared in a magazine of wide npftr Sa , emi nl . it was afterthu
circulation, filled with one mis- ]abor of af f ec tion was P prfoim( *
statement after another. From and he was pas t 21 years oW
reading this article you inevitably lha( he beg an work in unuis
come* to the conclusion that the stf)re aTld there was no sperms
author was grossly ignorant of notioe o£ insolvency on the aoor.
the subject or deliberately ig- vWh u e employed in this store, n_
nored the laborious and pamstak- en iisted in the Black Hav k
Tg years of research of William dian wa r and was chosen captam
Barton, Ida Tarbell, Dr. Lewis of his company by the u J an ™° u w
Warren, John Hay, Carpenter and vot e of his neighbors and
a host of other students of Lin-
coln. He may have drawn his
story from Herndon's "Life of
Lincoln" which contains much un-
friendly criticism of his great law
partner. Some Lincoln biograph-
ers think it was written to vent
his spleen on Mrs. Lincoln, whom
he detested, and she had little
use for him.
One gross misstatement
Only One Partner.
Second, "PARTNERSHIP AFT-
pd TWD YEARS * * * FAILED
aSaTn °wi?hVn two years
... AFTER YEARS OF MIS-
„ DAWV PFNURY * * * ON HIS
PAID THE LAST DOLLAR FEB.
12, 1848." nnlv
William Berrv was the onrs
that he "had attended school only
a few weeks. Lincoln had at
least five different teachers in
Kentucky and Indiana besides he
had the help of Mentor Graham
in Illinois, who helped him in the
study of grammar until he mas-
tered every rule in English. He
put into his- hands a number of
classical books of both prose and
poetry. He was ever a student
of the Holy Bible. This cannot be
gainsaid when we know that he
belonged to no church, but quot-
ed more lines from the Sacred
Book in his state papers and re-
corded addresses than all the
presidents combined preceding or
following him. This misinformed
"A YOUNG MAN OF TWENTY-
TWO, A PARTNER IN A STORE
* * * SHERIFF'S SIGN ON THE
DOOR * * * LOST EVERY PEN-
NY OF SEVEN YEARS' SAV-
Lincoln at 22 had no savings
or partnership in any store. He
could have hac". no seven years'
savings. Up to the time he came
to Illinois, his earnings, and right-
ly so, belonged to his father. He
worked for him, helping to build
partner he ever had while in any
husiness other than the law. This
partnership was formed within
six months after he quit Offuts
store to enlist as a private to
serve his country in the Black
Hawk Indian war. This partner-
ship continued but seven months,
when he sold his imprest to
Berry, who ran the store for a
few months only and closed out.
While the partnership lasted some
notes were given, which Berry
assumed when Lincoln sold his
interest to him.
At Berry's death, these notes
not having been paid, Mr. Lin-
coln, with much inconvenience to
himself, assumed payment, ab-
solving the widow of any respon-
sibility whatsoever. In after
years, in clearing this assumed
debt, he jocularly referred to it
as the "national debt." Within
three years thereafter he had
purchased two residential lots in
Springfield, 111., and before he was
39 years old had bought a farm
for his aging father and mother,
where they both lived until they
He also had purchased a home
for himself and family in Spring- s.ckness, so most writew think
held Not so bad for a young the story was fabricated by
man on the frontier who was ed- Herndon to hurt Mary Todd Lm-
! ?„ Im^lf in the law and coin. It is absurd on the face
S Sm V. an«i meanwhile of it, as within a year after the
had served three terms in the episode, he proposed marriage to
Tllmois Legislature and made a Mary Owen, a buxom Kentucky
successful race for Congress. lady who was visiting in the com-
successiui ia munity where Ann had lived. Re-
Records Show Facts. memh'ering that the engagement
Third "OFFER OF A JOB AS r j ng he gave Mary Todd a few
DEPUTY SURVEYOR . . • BUT sno rt years later bore within its
HE NEVER TOOK THE JOB. golden circle "Love is eternal,"
DESTINY SEEMED TO we are inclined to think the Ann
HAVE SINGLED HIM OUT FOR Rutledge love affair was but the
FAILURE." fleeting fancy of a young couple
How untrue this statement is. mU ch thrown together, Lincoln
He served as deputy surveyor having lived in the Rutledge
from the fall of 1833 until he nome for a few months.
Tnit N h e e W wa S s a a n surv n ey e or r of S Served in Legislature.
^himv is attested by the fact Fifth, "BELIEVING THAT
^ Sat^aslatfafjan.^, 1*8 h. THIS FAILURE MIGHT SUC-
addressed a surveyors' convention CEED IN POLITICS _
in Chicago and presented a writ- FRIENDS SECURED His
ten expert opinion on an abtuse SELECTION TO CO N G R E
engineer.ng pi-oblem CONSTITUENTS REFUSED TO
BLOW OF ms CAREER • . . RETURN HIM TO WASHING-
L^VaNN SSS "I- remembered that before
llf HLd^EH To s— g eig f ht £ST l h V .52
! R GRAVF Sn?DOwS Legislature with marked distinc-
THE n ? T ^ A J~oA^'nv TNSANITY tion and became the head and
TO THE t VERGE I OF JNSANUV |n im _
. . . SAID HE NEVER £AKJVU candidate for
T ° C S™ TO PARENT! Congress on his own volition and
" • ■ REI £?y, vpf HE WAS declined to run for a second term
HOME WHERE MENTAL because his term in Washington
NURSED BACK TO MEN * AL convince d him that he needed
HEALTH." -tnrtied more self-training and he hid
No one, who has really stud ea hjmself ^^ |n intensive sUldy of
Lincoln's life, gives the Ann n u- hJ hpr malhe matics to train his
ledge story much credence, i ney mjnd Hjs friends and neighbors
think it mostly fiction. in lcnoi indorsed his course in Congress
and Hay, who knew the sur-
roundings better than an y° n the next year, 1848, bv again
sincp, gave it only mere mennoi sending him to tne Legislature,
in their matchless work on bin Sixth( -FRIENDS . . .
coin. Not a word about menia FORCED POLITICAL SITUA-
TION WHICH PLACED HIM IN
DIRECT LINE FOR NOMINA-
TION TO UNITED STATES
SENATE FORCED TO STEP
ASIDE AND YIELD OFFICE."
Lincoln did lose the senatorship,
but he stepped aside voluntarily
to bring about harmony in the
party and healed a factional fight
that might have done great dam-
age to the party. His party won
the election; one of his good
friends was chosen as senator.
Not a Misfit.
Seventh, "SERIES OF DE-
BATES . . . (DOUGLAS) GAVE
NO QUARTER TO THIS MISFIT
AND FAILURE . . . OVER-
The popular vote for the candi-
dates for the Legislature favoring
Lincoln was 5,000 more than the
vote cast for those candidates fa-
voring Douglas. Lincoln, by the
popular vote won the election.
Though the Legislature voted 54
for Douglas to 46 for Lincoln, not
such an overwhelming victory for
Douglas, the acknowledged leader
of the Democratic party of the
nation, and really was a victory
for Lincoln as it for the first
time brought his name to the
American people as a national
figure and stamped him as a na-
tion-wide character, and paved
the way for his success in 1860,
when he became the first Repub-
lican President of the nation. We
cannot account for the ignorance
of the facts of the life of Lincoln,
especially after his removal from
Salem to Springfield. The merest
novice should not make such glar-
ing misstatements of facts in ref-
erence to his life and deeds.
Eighth, "HE HAD BEEN UN-
ABLE TO ACHIEVE ONE SIN-
GLE VICTORY IN 30 YEARS OF
It is hardly understandable that
any one could have read the most
unfavorable book on Lincoln and
after reading such book could
have made this statement. Here
are only a few of his remarkable
achievements of his unusual
career. He was elected to the
Legislature less than four years
after coming to Illinois from In-
diana and received all but a few
votes in the precinct in which he
lived, attesting to his popularity,
not only in his own party but in
his opponent's party. When less
than 25 years of age he was Whig
Floor Leader and the acknow-
ledged leader of this party in the
Legislature of Illinois.
At 31 he was a Whig presiden-
tial elector and cast his vote for
William Henry Harrison for Pres-
ident. He was again presidential
elector at large from his state
and voted for Henry Clay and be-
fore he was 40 years old he was
the lone Whig elected to Con-
gres9*from Illinois. Surely honors
like these, then and now, do not
come to miserable failures. In
1849 he was offered and declined
an appointment as secretary of
the Territory of Oregon and a
short time later could have had
the much coveted appointment as
Commissioner of the Land Office
in the state of Washington.
Untiring Labor Won.
In 1S54, just six years before
being nominated and elected to
the Legislature and in 1856 with-
out being k candidate, and mak-
ing no effort to get a single vote,
in the first national convention
held in Philadelphia, he received
110 votes for Vice-President on
the first national ticket of the
Republican party. Miserable fail-
ures have never in this country
or elsewhere received so unusual
and continued honors.
No, no, Lincoln, continued fail-
ures did not. follow along your
pathwav from the cabin in Ken-
tucky to the White House. They
did not contribute to your suc-
cess as the leading lawyer in your
adopted state. It was only by your
untiring labor in the forests of
Indiana where you learned to
read and did read every available
book for miles around your cabin
in the clearing with a determina-
tion to make the best of every
situation in which you were
placed with an ambition to excel
in every task and a willingness to
work that made it possible for
vou to achieve that greatness
that has stamped you as a leader
of mankind and endeared you to
the people of the whole world.
Long, long, after the Alexanders,
Napoleons, Caesars and despots of
their day and despots now, are
but names, your praises will be
sung and your carping critics will
By John Harvey Furbay, Ph.D.
LINCOLN'S LIFE WAS NOT
A SERIES OF FAILURES.
There have been numerous
printed wall cards on "Lincoln's
Failures," sometimes under the
caption of "Discouraged?" These
recite a long list of supposed de-
feats and failures of Lincoln. Ac-
cording to "Lincoln Lore," all of
these statements are either un-
truthful or misleading. Lincoln
was not a political failure when he
■ ran for the Legislature in Illinois
or for Congress. He was nearly
nominated Vice-President without
even knowing it; he was not out-
voted by Douglas, and he was
not the business failure he is
usually described as having been.
His life was a series of triumphs,
Chicago Sun Times
February 12, 1963
ONCE AGAIN ABE LINCOLN is being
maligned and today, instead of making our
annual pilgrimage to his shrine, we should like
to devote this space to setting the facts right.
Ordinarily, on Lincoln's Birthday, we devote
the column to an imaginary visit with 01' Abe,
during which we try to relate his undying
dialog to the problems of today. But Reader's
Digest chose on this 154th anniversary of Lincoln's birth to
revive an old chestnut by Arao B. Reincke. The article. He
Could Take It," first appeared in 1939 and brought forth a
tremendous howl of anguish from all Lincoln scholars. Now,
reportedly because Lowell Thomas asked that the article be re-
printed, Readers Digest does so in its current issue.
"HE COUI D TAKE IT," is, as you might suspect, the story
of a man who experienced failure alter failure alter failure, but
never lost his determination. Finally, he was elected Preside,
of the United States. It's written in the finest tradition o It
at first you don't succeed, try, try again," the philosophy of our
Cubs We have no argument with the philosophy of persever-
ance, but as lar as Abe Lincoln is concerned the story of failure
after failure isn't true. He had more than his share of success
and there's no reason to gild the lily to prove his greatness.
REINCKE GETS Oil ON THE WRONG LOOT early in
Lincoln's life by writing: "As. a young man of 2 , a partner in
a store, he learned lor the first time that failure
is easier to achieve than success. It was a bitter
lesson, punctuated with a sheriff's sign on the
door and the realization that he had lost every
penny of seven years' savings.
Fiddlesticks! Lincoln, at 22, was not a part-
ner, merely a clerk in the store (Offutt's).
And he had no seven years' savings to lose
because until he was 21 all his earnings
rightfully belonged to his lather. There was no
sheriff's sign on the door during Lincoln's Abraham
period of employment there. He left Offutt's Lincoln
to enlist in the black Hawk War and he was immediately elected
captain of his company, hardly a sign of failure.
REINCKE TAKES LINCOLN through another bankruptcy,
which caused him "many years of miserable penury, until on
his 39th birthday he paid the last dollar of his obligation."
Again, there is exaggeration. William Berry was Lincoln's one
and only partner in a store. Lincoln sold out to Berry after
seven months. When Hem died, Lincoln assumed Obligations
for notes they had co-signed. But Lincoln didn't sutler "many
years of miserable penury." Three years alter Berry died Lin-
coln purchased two house lots in Springfield, 111., and, belore
he was 39 a (arm lor his parents and a house of his own ill
Springfield. He also made a successful race for Congress at this
time, which further deflates Reineke's picture of Lincoln as a
man with two lefi ft***
REINCKE NOW GIVES IT the ol' perfessot-hearts-and-
flowers routine by reporting that Lincoln, after the second
mercantile failure, was offered a job as a surveyor. "He was
forced to borrow in order to buy a set of instruments and a
horse, but he never took the job. One of his creditors levied on
the instruments and horse and took them for debt."
A likely tale. But very unlikely in Lincoln's life. He did serve
as deputy surveyor for Sangamon County from the fall of 1833
until about the time he left New Salem in 1837. As late as Jan-
uary 6, 1849, Lincoln, upon request of a surveyors' convention,
presented an expert opinion on a technical surveying question.
OF ALL THE FIBS ABOUT LINCOLN, the supposed affair
with Ann Rutled^e is the one historians scoff at most. But not
Reincke. He plunges right through the facts to say: "Life then
dealt Lincoln the most crushing blow of his career — a blow to
the heart from which his spirit never recovered. His first love
suddenly died and. as he later said, his heart followed her to
the grave. It was too much. He went down to the verge of
insanity. 'At this period of my life I never dared to carry a
pocketknife,' Lincoln is quoted as writing. Within a year he
had broken so completely that he had to be removed to his
parents' home 300 miles away and nursed back to mental health."
THE ABOVE IS THE ALL-TIME WHOPPER in 01' Abe's
life. The Ann Rutledge incident is ignored by historians as
mostly fiction. And, in rapid order, there is no truth whatever
to "his lollowing her to the grave," the pocketknife story', the
visit to his parents or his verging on insanity. About a year
after Ann Rutledge's death, Lincoln proposed marriage to
Mary Owens, who was visiting in the community. This con-
ceivably could be the reason for the stories about Abe's sanity.
THE FLAMBOYANT EFFORT to depict Lincoln as a
complete patsy until he became President is best typified in
this passage from Reincke: "He had been unable to achieve
one single personal victory in 30 years of constant effort."
THE ABOVE IS PLSH-POSH of the worst kind. It is true-
Abe Lincoln rose to President in the face of great adversity.
But he was far from the failure Reincke and others would
paint him. lor instance: He was elected to the Illinois Legisla-
ture at 25 years of age and re-elected at each biennial election
for eight years. At 27, he was the floor leader in the Legislature.
At 29, he w as potential leader of the Whig Party in Illinois. At
39, he was the lone Whig congressman elected from the state of
Illinois. In 1856, with no effort on his part, he received 110
votes for vice president in the first Republican National Con-
vention. And you know what happened in 1860.
February 4, 1963
The Reader's Pi rest Association, Ice.
Ploaoantvlllo, Stow York
I was certainly surprised to road in th© February, 1963,
edition of the jP.aaaer' , 3 Digest tho article on pages 140-142 by
Arno B. Eoincfc© entitled, "He Could Take It," In 1939, when this
article was first printed in your magazine, it was branded as being
based on legend and sjyth. Dr« Louis A. Warren, then the editor of
Lincoln tore, squelched the article yith an array of facts • Likewise,
a pcr.phlet by R. D. Packard was issued in reply to your article
bearing the title *\fom Lincoln a Failure at Fifty***
A great aagaaine like th© Reader *b Direst should strive to
present facts because you do the American people a disservice ©vorytixae
you perpetuate a &yth or a fable • It would be so easy to have such
Lincoln articles authenticated before you publish then In your Etagasina*
I an to a certain extant a professional lecturer. One of cy
speeches is entitled "Lincoln's So-Called Failures." In ny speech I
brand as spurious cost of th© so-called failures of Abrahas Lincoln.
I would like to have your reaction to ssy cecr.ents.
R. Gerald KcKurtry
Enclosure: Lincoln Lore #*S21
cc: Lowell Thocaa .. „ v . w v .
, New York, hew York
Harold K. Sage, Normal, Illinois
The Reader's Digest
PLEASANTVILLE • NEW YORK
March 11, 1963
Dear Mr. McHurtry:
Thank you for your informed commands on "He Could Take
It" in the February Digest.
Unhappily, there seeras to be more fable than fact in
the Special Request Feature about Lincoln and we regret
having perpetuated a myth in an honest attempt to show the
value of perseverance. Inexplicably, the article did not
go to our research department for the checking that regu-
larly precedes the publication of material in The Pleader's
Digest and there was no record here of criticism following
its earlier appearance in the magazine back in January 1939.
We appreciate the interest that prompted you to write.
Mr. R. Gerald l-lcliurtry
Lincoln National Life Foundation
Fort .i'ayne, Indiana
Bulletin of The Lincoln National Life Foundation . . . Dr. R. Cerald McMurtry, Editor
Published each month by The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne, Indiana
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA
LINCOLN'S "SO-CALLED" FAILURES
Editors Note: In the February, 11163, issue of the Header's Digest
t here appeared an article entitled "He Could Take It", by Arn) B.
Reincke. The publication of this article must have come as a great
surprise to Lincoln students who had come to believe that the legends
regarding Lincoln's "so-called" failures had been laid to rest.
The article was designated by the editors as a Special Request
Feature with the following introduction: "Lowell Thomas, world-
famous author, radio commentator, cinerama, television and motion-
picture producer, has recommended that, this article, which first
appeared in the January 1939 issue of the Reader's Digest, be re-
In 1939, when this article was first published, it was branded as
purely legendary without any basis of fact. Dr. Louis A. Warren,
then the editor of Lincoln Lore, published a criticism of the article
in the weekly bulletin on April 3, 1939. The Reader's Digest article
was also answered by R. D. Packard in a pamphlet bearing the title
"W;is Lincoln A Failure At Fifty?" Apparently, none of these
criticisms reached the editors of the Header's Digest.
This past February a number of Lincoln Lore subscribers suggested
to the editor that he take up the matter with the magazine editors.
A lc'tei- dated February 4, 1963, was directed to the magazine's edi-
torial staff, with a copy being sent to Lowell Thomas. On March 11,
1963. a letter was received from one of the editors stating that "there
seems to be more fable than fact in the Special Request Feature
about Lincoln." While no retraction of the article appealed in later
issues of the magazine, the editors expressed "regret" for "having
perpetuated a myth in an honest attempt to show the value of perse-
verance." The letter further stated that "Inexplicably, the article did
not go to our research department for the checking that regularly
precedes the publication of material in the Reader's Digest and there
was no record here of criticism following its earlier appearance in
the magazine back in January 1939."
Kupcinet, one of the nation's most popular columnists, under
"Kup's Column" answered the Reader's Digest article in his syndi-
cated column, which among other newspapers, appeared in the
Chifago Sun-Times of February 12, 1963. Referring to the Reincke
article Kupcinet took the magazine, the author, and Lowell Thomas
to task for reviving "an old chestnut."
In order to review Warren's criticism of the Reincke article, pub-
lished twenty-four years ago, Lincoln Lore Number 521 is being re-
printed in this issue.
R. Gerald McMuitry
"He Could Take It"
The portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as a constant and
miserable failure until "destiny with one magnificent
stroke" swept him into the Presidency may sound a note
of encouragement to a man who has never made any
progress in life, but such a presentation of the Emanci-
pator has no value as a historical treatise. Arno B.
Reincke, author of the monograph, "He Could Take It",
states that his argument is "based on fact," and in so
affirming invites criticism of his sources.
This Lincoln failure story appeared as the leading
article in the January issue of the Reader's Digest, and
because of the wide circulation of the magazine through
educational institutions just previous to Lincoln's birth-
day, it was widely used just at a time when it would have
its greatest appeal.
The legendary aspect of the story which deals with
"unseen forces" and "magnificent strokes of destiny" is
supplemented by a strange philosophy that a long and
continued series of failures culminates in success. Most
students in a democratic country are invited to work out
their own destiny, and the urge to excel when properly
directed does not usually pay off in failures.
Those who have given some attention to the study of
Lincoln's life, immediately upon reading the Reincke
story, began to take exceptions to his characterization
of the Emancipator. Through both correspondence and
personal interviews the editor of Lincoln Lore has been
urged to make some written comment upon the eight
specific statements around which the discussion evolves.
Limited space will make it necessary, first, to greatly
abbreviate Mr. Reincke's eight specific statements about
Mr. Lincoln, and second, to exclude from the comments
by the editor of Lincoln Lore the many sources of proof
which might be submitted. Sufficient to say that each
comment has either a duly authorized record to sustain
it or a preponderance of evidence to support it.
1. "A young man of twenty-two, a partner in a store
.... sheriff sign on the door .... lost every penny of
seven years savings."
Lincoln at twenty-two had no partnership interest in
any store, and he had no seven years' savings to lose as
all earnings up to the time he was twenty-one rightfully
belonged to his father. He was serving as a clerk in
Offut's store. He saw no sheriff's sign on the door, and
while still employed by Offut he enlisted as a soldier in a
Black Hawk war and was immediately elected captain
of his company.
2. "Second partnership after two years .... failed
again within two years .... after years of miserable
penurv .... on his thirty-ninth birthday (February 12,
1848) paid last dollar."
William Berry was Lincoln's first and only partner
in the store business and this relationship was formed
five months after Lincoln served as clerk for Offut. The
partnership lasted but seven months and Lincoln sold his
interest to Berry in April 1833. Berry ran the store as
sole proprietor until August, four months after he had
bought out Lincoln. Certain notes signed by Lincoln and
Berry caused Lincoln to become involved financially, and
when Berry died Lincoln assumed Berry's obligations.
Three years later, however, Lincoln bought two house
lots in Springfield and, before he was thirty-nine years of
age, he purchased a farm for his parents and a house of
his own in Springfield. He also made a successful race
3. "Offer of job as surveyor .... But he never took the
job .... Destiny seemed to have singled him out for
Lincoln served as deputy-surveyor for Sangamon Coun-
ty from the fall of 1833 until about the time he left New
Salem in the spring of 1837. As late as January 6, 1849
Lincoln, upon request of a surveyor's convention at Chi-
cago, presented a written expert opinion on a technical
4. "Most crushing blow of his career .... First and
only enduring love (Ann Rutledge) suddenly died ....
Said his heart followed her to the grave . . . went down
to verge of insanity .... said he never dared to carry
.... pocket-knife .... removed to parents' home where
he was nursed back to mental health."
The Ann Rutledge story has been ignored by historians
as mostly fiction. There is no truth whatever about the
jjrrave stories, his insanity at this time, the pocket-knife
story or his visit to his parents. About a year after Ann's
death he proposed marriage to Mary Owen, who was
visiting in the same community where Ann had lived.
5. "Believing that this 'failure' might succeed in poli-
tics ... friends secured his selection to Congress ....
again he failed .... constituents refused to return him
Before running for Congress on his own initiative in
1846, he had served eight years in the Illinois legislature
and was the leading Whig in the state. It was agreed
before he was elected that he would serve but one term.
His constituency endorsed him in 1854 by again electing
him to the Illinois legislature.
6. "Friends .... forced political situation which placed
him in direct line for nomination to U. S. senate ....
Forced to step aside and yield office."
Lincoln did lose the senatorship but he stepped aside
voluntarily for the sake of the party to bring about a
unity of divided factions. His party won.
7. "Series of debates .... (Douglas) gave no quarter
to this misfit and failure .... overwhelmingly defeated."
The popular vote for the candidates to the legislature
favoring Lincoln was five thousand in excess of the vote
poled by the candidates favoring Douglas. Lincoln by the
popular vote won the debates. The legislature voted
fifty-four to forty-six in favor of Douglas, not an over-
whelming defeat for Lincoln.
8. "He had been unable to achieve one single personal
victory in thirty years of constant effort."
It is difficult to account for such a statement as the
above. He was elected to Illinois legislature at twenty-five
years of age and to the same office at each biennial
election for eight years, or as long as he chose to run. At
twenty-seven years of age he was floor leader in the
legislature, at twenty-nine years he was potential leader
of the Whig party in Illinois. At thirty-one he was presi-
dential elector for Harrison, at thirty-five elector at
large for Clay, at thirty-nine the lone Whig congressman
elected from the state of Illinois. In 1849 he declined a
tentative appointment as Secretary of Oregon. In 1854
he was again elected to the legislature and in 1856 with
no effort whatever on his part he received one hundred
and ten votes in the first National Republican Convention
as a nominee for the Vice-Presidency.
Congressman Abraham Lincoln Witnessed
The Death-Stroke of John Quincv Adams
February 21, 1848
(Continued from March 1963 issue)
In the letter already alluded to, dated June 1, 1848,
Lincoln wrote the Reverend Henry Slicer pointing out
that as he was not a member of the sub-committee of
Arrangements "he had no knowledge of it whatever."
Lincoln explained to the Chaplain that Mr. Charles Hud-
son, a Massachusetts Whig representative, and also a
minister of the Universalist Church, was chairman of
both the general and the sub-committees. Lincoln could
not recall the names of the other members of Congress
who served on the sub-committee.
Lincoln answered Slicer's queries as follows:
"To your first special interrogatory, to wit 'Were
you consulted in regard to my exclusion from the
services?' I answer, I was not — perhaps because the
arrangements I have stated excluded me from con-
sultation on all points.
"To the second, to wit: 'Was objection made to me
— and if so, on what ground was it placed?' I answer
I know nothing whatever on the point.
"To the third, to wit: 'Did my exclusion meet with
your consent or approval?' I answer, I knew nothing
of the matter, and, of course, did not consent to, or
approve of it; and I may add, that I knew nothing
which should have justified me in any attempt to put
a mark of disapprobation upon you.
"So entirely ignorant was I, in relation to your
having been excluded from the funeral services of
Mr. Adams, that, until I received your letter, I should
have given it as my recollection, that you did actually
participate in those services."
The coffin of Mr. Adams was covered with black velvet
and ornamented with silver lace. The silver breastplate
presented the following inscription:
John Quincy Adams
An Inhabitant of Massachusetts, July 11, 1767
A Citizen of the United States,
In the Capitol of Washington
February 23, 1848
Having Served his Country for Half a Century
Enjoyed its Highest Honors
On Satm-day, February 26, 1848, the body of Adams
was interred in the Congressional Burying Ground. How-
ever, the remains were deposited there only a few days,
as the final interment was at Quincy, Massachusetts.
Congressman John Wentworth was the Illinois Demo-
cratic delegate of the Committee of Thirty that ac-
companied the remains to Massachusetts. In Boston a
committee of the Legislature of Massachusetts took
charge of the ceremonies at Fanueil Hall and of the
burial at Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams' home.
By a House resolution Adams' seat was to remain
vacant for a period of thirty days. However, a political
movement was not long in getting underway to elect
Charles Frances Adams, the dead President's son, to the
vacated seat. These political plans did not materialize
and Horace Mann received the nomination and was sub-
A considerate gesture on the part of the Congress was
a resolution passed by both houses granting "That all
letters and packets carried to and from Louisa Catherine
Adams, widow of the late John Quincy Adams, be con-
veyed free of postage during her natural life" (she died
May 15, 1852).
One of the final Adams entries in The Congressional
Globe, dated March 3, 1848, is the letter Mrs. Adams sent
to the Speaker to be read (March 1, 1848) before the
House of Representatives:
"Washington, February 29, 1848
Sir: The resolution in honor of my dear deceased hus-
band, passed by the illustrious assembly over which you
preside, and of which he at the moment of his death was
a member, have been duly communicated to me.
Penetrated with grief at this distressing event of my
life; mourning the loss of one who has been at once my
example and my support through the trials of half a
century, permit me nevertheless to express through you
my deepest gratitude for the signal manner in which the
public regard has been voluntarily manifested by your
honorable body, and the consolation derived to me and
mine from the reflection, that the unwearied efforts of
an old public servant have not even in this world proved
without their reward in the generous appreciation of
them by his country.
With great respect, I remain, sir, your obedient servant,
Louisa Catherine Adams.
To the Honorable Robert C. Winthrop,
Speaker of the House of Representatives of the U.S."
On June 20, 1848, another resolution relating to the
lamented Adams was brought before the House. "Re-
solved that the Committee on the Library of this House
be authorized to procure a monument of Quincy granite,
with suitable inscriptions to be erected in the Con-
gressional burying grounds in memory of John Quincy
Perhaps the last resolution relating to the demise of
Adams is dated March 3, 1949 when Mr. Ashmun pre-
sented a resolution that a bust of John Quincy Adams,
by the artist John C. King, which had been procured by
voluntary subscriptions, be placed in the Speaker's room
"to mark the spot, and commemorate the circumstances
of his death."
Thus, Abraham Lincoln while a member of the 30th
Congress, witnessed the death stroke of one of the great
men of our country and an outstanding figure in the
diplomatic affairs of our nation.
(See Lincoln Lore No. 854, "Lincoln and John Quincy
Adams" August 20, 1945).
Abraham Lincoln's "Failures" and "Successes"
Page 1 of 2
tbraham Lincoln Online
SPEECHES & WRITINGS
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Below is one version of the so-called "Lincoln failures" list, shown in bold type. It's
often used to inspire people to overcome life's difficulties with Lincoln as a model.
Then look at the right column with other facts from Lincoln's pre-presidential life.
History professor Lucas Morel compiled this comparison from the Chronology in
Selected Speeches and Writings/Lincoln by Don E. Fehrenbacher, ed., 1992.
Defeated for state
Elected company captain of Illinois
militia in Black Hawk War
Failed in business
Appointed postmaster of New Salem,
Appointed deputy surveyor of Sangamon
Elected to Illinois state legislature
Had nervous breakdown
Re-elected to Illinois state legislature
(running first in his district)
Received license to practice law in
Illinois state courts
Led Whig delegation in moving Illinois
state capital from Vandalia to
Became law partner of John T. Stuart
Defeated for Speaker
Nominated for Illinois House Speaker by
Re-elected to Illinois House (running
first in his district)
Served as Whig floor leader
Abraham Lincoln's "Failures" and "Successes"
Page 2 of 2
Chosen presidential elector by first Whig
Admitted to practice law in U.S. Circuit
Argues first case before Illinois Supreme
Re-elected to Illinois state legislature
Established new law practice with
Stephen T. Logan
Admitted to practice law in U.S. District
Defeated for nomination
Established own law practice with
William H. Herndon as junior partner
Elected to Congress
(Chose not to run for Congress, abiding
by rule of rotation among Whigs.)
Rejected for land officer
Admitted to practice law in U.S.
Declined appointment as secretary and
then as governor of Oregon Territory
Defeated for U.S. Senate
Elected to Illinois state legislature (but
declined seat to run for U.S. Senate)
Defeated for nomination
for Vice President
Again defeated for U.S.
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